by wjw on December 11, 2014

So the U.S. Senate report on torture shows that it was far worse than I imagined, or I imagine anybody imagined.  We’ve known about the torture for years, of course, but now we know just how depraved and disgusting and totally without merit it was.

Consider this: numbers are a little vague, but it appears there were 119 captives in the program.  Of these, 26 were innocent.

We tortured innocent people, including “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be.”  Some were cases of mistaken identity, some were people being held in order to intimidate friends or family, some were “mentally challenged,” some were denounced by people who were being tortured and who turned out just to be inventing stuff.  All were held long after they were known to be innocent.

Some were CIA informants— people who voluntarily offered information to the CIA, and then were tortured just in case they knew something they hadn’t revealed.

The torture was done by amateurs.  The torture was contracted out to two psychologists who lacked “specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic experience.”  Neither had ever interrogated anyone in their lives.

One email from a CIA staff psychologist said “no professional in the field would credit” their judgments. Another said their “arrogance and narcissism” led to unnecessary conflicts in the field. The director of interrogations for the CIA called their program a “train wreck” and complained that they were blending the roles of doctor and interrogator inappropriately.

John Rizzo, the acting CIA general counsel who met with the psychologists, wrote in his book, “Company Man,” that he found some of what Mitchell and Jessen were recommending “sadistic and terrifying.” One technique, he wrote, was “so gruesome that the Justice Department later stopped short of approving it.”

Torture was the first option.  “Instead, in many cases the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop,” according to the summary of the declassified and heavily censored document. “Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.”

Detainees were walked around naked and shackled, and at other times naked detainees were “hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.”

The amateurs were allowed to evaluate their own program.  Not surprisingly, they reported that their own program was very effective.  “…the same individuals applied an (enhanced interrogation technique) which only they were approved to employ, judged both its effectiveness and detainee resilience, and implicitly proposed continued use of the technique – at a daily compensation reported to be $1,800/day.”

The amateurs had a financial interest in torture.  The psychologists formed their own company to which the torture was outsourced, and signed a contract worth $180 million.  They’d been paid $81 million when the program was terminated in 2009.

In addition, CIA agreed to indemnify the company in the event of legal action against the company or its employes. ‘The CIA spent $1.1 million on legal expenses for the men between 2007 and 2012. “Under the CIA’s indemnification contract,” the report says, “the CIA is obligated to pay Company Y’s legal expenses through 2021.”’

The torture was sickening, sadistic, and degrading.  It included forcing victims to stand on broken feet for many hours, ice baths (as practiced by Josef Mengele), threats against family members, and of course rape, newly rechristened “anal feeding.”  (I ask you, can you ever unhear that?)

The torture was completely useless.   The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism ‘successes’ that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the intelligence panel, said in a statement Tuesday. “Each of those examples was found to be wrong in fundamental respects.”

In some instances, the study finds, the information acquired proved irrelevant to stopping terror threats. In others, the use of the techniques resulted in detainees providing fabricated or inaccurate information, and in still other cases, the information obtained through interrogating the detainees had already been acquired through other techniques.

The CIA and administration lied their asses off.   In 2007, Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “all of those involved in the questioning of detainees are carefully chosen and screened for demonstrated professional judgment and maturity.”

In fact, the Senate report concludes, no such vetting took place. The interrogation teams included people with “notable derogatory information” in their records, including one with “workplace anger management issues” and another who “had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”

The CIA spied on the committee who were writing the report.  Which they couldn’t manage without giving themselves away.

There’s a lot more, and you’re invited to read the actual report, which bear in mind is only a 500-page redaction of a 6700-page original.

And it’s not like the CIA was unified in all this.  Some of the most cogent criticism of the program came from CIA professionals.  “I am concerned at what appears to be a lack of resolve at headquarters to deploy to the field the brightest and most qualified officers,” wrote a C.I.A. officer running one of the secret prisons in 2005. “More than a few are basically incompetent.”

He added: “We see no evidence that thought is being given to deploying an ‘A team.’ The result, quite naturally, is the production of mediocre or, I dare say, useless intelligence.”

The torture program is still defended in a 100-page report issued by the CIA (it’s almost as if they knew what was in the Senate report!) and by the likes of Dick Cheney, though why anyone should care what that bloated bag of toxic gas has to say, I can’t imagine.  These disgusting and shameful acts didn’t come out of nowhere: they came out of the brutal, psychotic, cowardly atmosphere floating through the White House.  Cheney, Bush, Tenant, and the others are revealed as war criminals.

Now I’ve mentioned what the program did to its victims, but what did it do to us?  Torture is as morally degrading and corrupting for those who practice it as for those receiving it.  (As it seems to have corrupted everyone connected with the torture program, from the interrogators who earned millions of dollars to the officials who committed perjury before Congress.)

So we need to consider whether we are a rogue nation, unaccountable to any law of God or man.  What distinguishes us from the people we’re trying to fight?  Al-Qaeda and ISIS merely kill people.  We torture, which is— as everyone involved in the program surely knew— illegal, both under American and international law.  We’ve lost the moral right to call anyone else barbaric.

Now according to the UN Convention on Torture, which the U.S. has signed, we are legally obliged to arrest and try war criminals found in our country, or deport them to another place (such as the Hague) for trial.  Anyone want to bet how Obama will move on this, a signal moral issue of his presidency?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.

I would like to end with the signing statement of the president who signed the UN Convention on Torture.

“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of [this] Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

“The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution . . . “

The signer?  Ronald Reagan.  The year?  1988.

What a difference thirty-odd years makes.

DensityDuck December 11, 2014 at 7:50 am

I’m kind of glad you’re not planning to write a third “Metropolitan” novel because this way I won’t have to feel bad about not buying it.

John Appel December 11, 2014 at 12:23 pm

What has struck me all along about this is that our people have known for decades that torture doesn’t work. I can remember the utter horror and disgust of a former Army intel officer I’m acquainted with when this stuff came out, because her experience told her that we weren’t going to get anything useful from it – which, in the end, seems to have been the result.

These wretched people not only did the wrong thing, they did it incompetently, which seems to have been the signature of the former Administration.

Sadly, you seem to be right about President Obama’s unwillingness to go after these people. The big takeaway of the last few years seems to be that the police/security/surveillance state has absolutely zero accountability to anyone.

kpacheneg December 12, 2014 at 1:31 am

At the risk of sounding like I try to downplay these horrors, is there better proof we live in the dark cyberpunk future than the CIA outsourcing their dirty, bloody work to a company held by sadistic psychopaths? (We come full circle if we remember it was the Gibber who started the whole neoconsersative/neoliberal privatisation descent.)

There is, in fact, better proof. I imagined the worst after it became clear America had built modern-day concentration camps in form of Guantanamo, where the brown people are for being brown and commit suicide as an effect of the torture we knew about (sleep deprivation through constant loud music) or GOT suicided as part of torture and murder we don’t know about. Yes, I don’t think this is the be all, end all on the matter. Monsters always try to hide their worst crimes from the world. God knows what else happened/happens at the blacksites around the world…

wjw December 12, 2014 at 4:49 am

DD, what’s your beef, exactly?

One result of this is that Bush, Cheney, Tenant, etc., will never be able to leave the U.S., for fear that they’d be arrested as soon as they stepped off the plane.

Phil Koop December 13, 2014 at 11:27 pm

So how do you read the duckster? Do you think DD is saying “since you have dared to criticize my beloved CIA for torture, I’ll never buy another book of yours again”?

I’ll admit that interpretation crossed my mind for a moment, but it just doesn’t make sense. I mean, why pick on Metropolitan? I thought that what DD meant is that since City on Fire dealt with the moral hazards of having an invisible, unstoppable assassin coupled to a high political purpose, the logical next step would have to be the expediency of torture, and that would just be unbearable to read.

Not that there isn’t plenty of material in here for a story. But it would take a genius like J.G. Farrell to do justice to it without seeming either glib or over-earnest. Just think: in the name of liberty and democracy, the CIA reverse-engineered the training intended to resist the torture techniques of the enemy it was created to oppose, the Soviet Union, in order to possess those same techniques itself. But the goal of Soviet torture was to extract false confessions for propaganda, not to extract true information for intelligence. The temptation to be either too satirical or too outraged is very strong.

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